Introduce leveling in games (its a staple how we’ve learned to gauge our progress, etc)
The idea of “Levels” been a part of gaming virtually since they first began. It’s how we know we’re advancing through a game, it’s the idea of progress. Be it levels of difficulty, character levels, or even just the difference between the locations in a game, progress has nearly always been measured in terms of levels. While the term has fallen to the wayside in terms of defining different stages or locations, it is very much alive and well in the realm of character advancement.
Many games that ask the player to develop a character, be it an RPG, free-roaming sandbox, or even FPS’s, employ some variety of leveling system. They have to. If the player doesn’t feel like they’re making progress in the game, then there’s much less reason to keep them invested in the game. However, as necessary as it is, one can’t help but feel like traditional leveling systems are becoming tired, stagnant even. It’s not that the traditional system doesn’t work ( meaning having players fight x amount of enemies to gain x amount of experience, and in turn receive x amount of points in health or something else), but it’s always had a major flaw that almost universally makes such systems feel old. Plainly put, they’re a distraction. Their presence changes the focus of the game from enjoying the gameplay to just getting to that next level. It’s an inherent problem in the system which limits the ability of games meant to be fresh and different, like Final Fantasy XIII was supposed to be, to actually be so.
So if not the traditional, tried-and-true method, then what? The item-empowerment method (where the character grows through gathering better items, a la the Metroid series)? That can work, but carries it’s own risks such as having to contrive new reasons to gather items in successive games (still looking at you Metroid). Along with that, it can risk becoming a bland Easter-egg hunt as the player gets sidetracked into tracking everything down that they can. It’s still fun, but an artificial sort of fun. The item system is on the right track, but it’s inherent flaws still hold games that employ it back to at least some degree. However, there is still another method. One that many of us are familiar with.
BioShock comes to mind as the best example of an alternative leveling system. In BioShock, character advancement takes a back seat to the rest of the game; The system is still present but is integrated in a way that makes it difficult to become a distraction. In BioShock’s case, Jack grows more powerful as ADAM is gained and weapon upgrade stations are found. Both are rare commodities, and are both gained by doing what comes naturally in the game: exploring the dank halls of Rapture as you seek the resources necessary to keep moving forward. The focus is kept on actually playing the game and its story since there’s no opportunity to grind levels, and neither are so important to your advancement that the game turns into an Easter-egg hunt. It’s kept out of the way, but still has enough impact to impress the idea upon you that progress has been made.
It is possible to level-up leveling-up. We have it in many games, not just BioShock. The traditional system is comfortable, yet tired thanks to it’s distracting nature, so hopefully we’ll be seeing more background systems that don’t resort to plain numbers in the future.
What are some unique leveling systems you’ve come across in your time as a gamer? How would they be a better alternative to the plain leveling systems we see in so many games today? We want to know!